Hong Kong police have issued arrest warrants for six pro-democracy activists living in exile, the first time city authorities have used a new comprehensive law to target campaigns living outside Hong Kong.
They include Samuel Chu, a U.S. citizen living in the U.S., Nathan Law, a prominent campaigner who recently moved to the UK after leaving Hong Kong, and Simon Cheng, a former British consular staff who was granted asylum in the UK after claiming to have been tortured in China.
Chinese state media reported that the six men were wanted for “inciting secession and clashing with foreign forces”.
The move comes a month after China introduced a controversial national security law in Hong Kong. China said the legislation targets the crimes of “secession, destruction, terrorism and cooperation with foreign forces” and has sentences as severe as life in prison.
Critics warned it would be used to target legitimate opposition, and highlighted the unusual decision to make the law applicable to both Hong Kong residents and non-residents. This apparently gives China jurisdiction beyond its borders.
Chu, who heads the Democracy Council in Hong Kong, a Washington DC-based advocacy organization dedicated to advancing Hong Kong freedom and democracy, is the first person to be targeted in this aspect of the law.
He said China was sending a clear message to other activists ordering his arrest.
“I would really like to emphasize how savage this is,” Chu told the Guardian. “I am the first non-Chinese citizen who is basically being targeted. I think they intend to try to make this an example.”
Several countries have suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, as a possible protection against attempts to use national security laws to gather activists abroad. The US ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special economic status earlier in July.
Chu, who has lived in the United States as a U.S. citizen since 1996, said the charges against China “targeted a U.S. citizen for lobbying my government.”
“We always knew that when the national security law came into force there was a very disturbing and illogical idea, unreasonable that they claimed jurisdiction over anyone who is not even a Hong Kong resident who is anywhere in the world, doing everything they considered threatening, “he said.
HK police are targeting an American citizen for lobbying my government. I may be the first non-Chinese citizen I target, but I will not be the last. If I am targeted, every American / every citizen of any nation talking about HK can – and will – also.
We are all Hong Konggers now. pic.twitter.com/KQYGcStY1e
– Samuel Chu Zhu Shenmin (@samuelmchu) July 31, 2020
The other activists charged were Ray Wong, Wayne Chan and Honcques Laus.
Wong, who is currently in the UK, told Reuters allegations made that the Chinese government feared the work of advocating for Hong Kong international activists.
“I think they want to sever our connection with the people of Hong Kong … it will make people fear that they may violate national security law by contacting us,” Wong said.